Doxa watch With the huge selection of watch manufacturers available to choose from these days, it is easy for those who are new to the fascinating world of the watch industry to pass over some outstanding watchmakers and the watches they create.
The Watch Press spotlight this time turns onto another one of our favourite brands although not one with the highest of profiles - Doxa.
Today recognised as the creator of some of the very finest professional diving and sports instruments available anywhere, to become familiar with the Doxa brand, we must travel back 120 years to much simpler times and the town of Le Locle in the Swiss watchmaking heartland of the Neuchatel region.
Almost ten years prior to founding his Doxa company, the 12-year old Georges Ducommun set out on the road to his calling as a watchmakers apprentice, earning a few pennies to take home to his family (of 12 brothers and sisters!), but also closely observing the techniques of his employer.
Aged only 20 years, Ducommun opened for business as a repairer of watches while at the same time beginning to craft his own works which he would then deliver by hand after trudging, even through the alpine winters, the ten kilometres to the larger town of La Chaux de Fonds.
Doxa was officially founded in 1889 (although the name was only registered as a trademark in 1910) when Georges Ducommun was still only 21, and within a short few years, the combination of his work ethic and the quality of his pocket watches saw the company make considerable progress. Based on the philosophy of creating high quality timepieces at an affordable price, the Doxa name began to earn the respect its’ founder strived for.
During the formative years, Georges Ducommun oversaw the production of a number of fine pocket watches, some featuring hand-painted dials, as well as recognizing the new emerging trend for wristwatches.
Such were the high standards of the Doxa watch that soon the marque began to pick up awards at prestigious watch fairs outside the immediate catchment of the manufacture, and with acclaim came an increase in demand for Doxa watches internationally.
The popularity of his Doxa watch brand brought to Ducommun some of the trappings of success – a long way from his impoverished childhood, including his residence, the now famed Chateau des Monts - home today of the Le Locle Musée d’Horologie – as well as the ability to indulge himself with the latest of the accessories of the well-heeled, the motor car.
Already deeply passionate about motor cars, Georges Ducommun saw them as another potential avenue to pursue a new area of opportunity for his Doxa company, and patented an instrument, using one of his existing watch movements, but purpose-built for mounting on the dashboards of the new motor cars as well as for another pastime then growing in popularity, aviation. For these, his larger piece with an eight-day reserve offered the motorist and aviator a dash-mounted timepiece providing greater ease of reading.
This association with the aero and automotive industries saw Doxa entering the new sports instruments sector, and when Ettore Bugatti went looking for a supplier of high-quality panel-mounted instruments for his own legendary marque, Georges Ducommun was there to meet the requirement. Thus the Doxa name became intrinsically connected to one of the mightiest names ever in the history of motoring.
Through his connection with the motoring industry, Ducommun’s instruments were soon in demand and as a result, the Doxa 8-Day reserve was to be found in automobiles from many manufacturers, but none so enduring as the Type 35 Bugatti – one of the most famous of all motor cars.
The visionary that was Georges Ducommun passed away in 1936 and it was left to his son-in-law Jacques Nardin, grandson of another luminary Ulysse Nardin, to pick up the baton of the Doxa legacy. Under his direction, Doxa continued to expand, and new wristwatch models were introduced for men and ladies.
Astutely, Jacques Nardin gained some endearing publicity for his brand when, in 1954, he presented every member of the victorious German World Cup soccer squad with a gold Doxa watch.
With its’ tradition steeped in the manufacture of elegant timepieces and auto and aviator horological instruments, Nardin set about rewriting the company history when, in 1967 his Head of Operations, Urs Eschle submitted his patent application for ‘Diver’s Watch’.
Previously a pursuit generally undertaken by naval military experts, diving was fast becoming a pastime which was accessible to more and more people, both professional and leisure enthusiasts. The team at Doxa got together with Jacques Cousteau’s US Divers Company, and in particular diver Claude Wesly, to work on delivering a watch which covered all the requirements which would make the resultant watch virtually indispensible to the serious diver.
The Doxa Sub300t was released to great acclaim in 1967, and it was like no other watch which preceded it. Exhaustive research with the Cousteau team proved that an orange dial could be read more clearly than any other colour, and so that’s what it had. Another ingenious device which would come to be a standard feature on any divers watch was the unidirectional rotating bezel featured on the Sub300t, which gave the wearer an accurate no-decompression limit indicator for time elapsed underwater and therefore an invaluable asset for the diver.
To protect the watch from the harmful effects of ascending from depth – similar to the diver’s great fear – the bends, Doxa also worked closely with Rolex in developing the Helium Release Valve (Rolex for use on their Submariner Sea Dweller), the patent of which both manufactures agreed to share, and which is today an integral feature of any professional divers watch.
One other feature – an expandable steel clasp mechanism meant that the watch also had an appeal to the wearer when out of the water - or even if the wearer never got his feet wet - as the same watch could easily fit over the wetsuit or the bare wrist. The Doxa Sub diver’s watch truly tore up the rulebook for the gent’s sports watch and it remains the pillar of the Doxa brand today, some 40 years after it’s inception.
With the Sub’s popularity surprising the hierarchy in Doxa, the orders extended even to the US Navy as well as the French, British and Polish naval forces. An enormous success which would establish the brand as one of the most important manufacturers of professional divers watches.
Following on the success of the Sub models, Doxa appeared to be in a commanding position within their niche, but they, along with many other manufacturers were looking over their shoulders, at first sceptically, at the new competition coming in from Japan, in the form of the quartz watch.
No-one could have foreseen the tsunami-like sweep across the traditional watchmaking industry these inexpensive, but highly accurate quartz watches would have, but soon after their popularity began to gather pace, the Swiss were finding life in the melée to be unsustainable and many manufacturers found that the heat of competing with the Japanese invasion to be too much, and the axe fell upon several long-established Swiss watch manufactures.
Doxa were no exception, particularly because of the Japanese producer’s ability to identify growth trends, such as the dive niche, and develop high-quality, fully capable watches but at a fraction of the price due to the capacity for producing in huge numbers. Doxa found themselves struggling in their own waters!
By 1978 Doxa was put on the market and one of the first things that new owners Aubry & Frères S.A. did was to make cutbacks everywhere, pulling out of the previously buoyant US market and restricting the company catchment to the easier to service European market.
These draconian measures may have helped to preserve the Doxa name, but creatively, the company stagnated. One group of people to notice this decline was the Jenny family whose company manufactured and supplied watchcases to Doxa. When the opportunity to acquire the Doxa company came about in 1997, the family seized on the chance.
Under the direction of Romeo F. Jenny, Doxa underwent a period of restructuring, emerging healthier and with the intention of reclaiming the status of it’s previous glory days.
Recognizing the potential of the Sub models, Doxa concentrated on the range, adding variations with different coloured dials and features, resistance to greater depths – up to the incredible Sub5000t Professional ‘SeaConqueror’.
In 2002, to commemorate 35 years of the Doxa Sub, a reissue of the 1967 Sub300t, was released to the exact specifications of the original.
The fervour with which it was received served as the prompt for the company to concentrate on the model and rebuild their client base internationally, adding in 2009 the Doxa Ultraspeed Limited Edition and a special classically-styled ‘Chateau des Monts’ Limited Edition, both watches to celebrate 120 years of Doxa watchmaking history and the commemorating the home of it’s founder Georges Ducommun all those years ago in Le Locle.
Today, Romeo F. Jenny oversees a healthy and vibrant family-owned watch manufacture in their headquarters at Biel-Bienne, in the Jura Valley.
Georges Ducommun would no doubt be satisfied that his philosophy of delivering high grade watches at affordable prices is being preserved and that his Doxa brand is still under family ownership (if not his own), and growing from strength to strength with each passing year.
Creators of many fine watches and automotive timepieces, Doxa today is a cult status manufacture.